Thursday, March 14, 2019

Synaxis of the Icon of the Mother of God of Saint Theodore

Synaxis of the Icon of the Mother of God of Saint Theodore
(Feast Days - March 14 & August 16)

The Theodore or Kostroma or Feodorovskaya Icon of the Mother of God was allegedly painted by the Evangelist Luke, but more likely is a copy of the Vladimir Icon of the Mother of God which it resembles.

This icon received its name from Great Prince Yaroslav Vsevolodovich (+ 1246), the father of Saint Alexander Nevsky, and who in holy Baptism was named Theodore in honor of Saint Theodore Stratelates (Feb. 8).

According to one tradition, Prince Basil of Kostroma, the younger brother of Prince Alexander Nevsky, became lost in the forest while hunting game. This was on August 16, 1239. He saw an icon standing amid one of the spruces, but when he tried to take it down, it rose up in the air. Amazed by such a wondrous occurrence, Prince Basil returned to the city and told the clergy and the people of his vision. Everyone went out to the forest and, in truth, found the icon in the indicated spot and fell to their knees in prayer to the Mother of God. The clergy then took the icon and carried it to the church. The inhabitants of Kostroma observed that while the prince was hunting in the forest, a warrior in rich armor came up to the city with an icon in his hands. The warrior looked like the image of the Great Martyr Theodore Stratelates, in whose honor the Kostroma Cathedral was consecrated, and for this reason the icon was called Feodorovskaya. One time several people living in the vicinity of the Gorodetsk Monastery that had been destroyed by the Tatars came to Kostroma, and they immediately recognized the cathedral icon that used to be in their church.

According to another tradition, the icon was found by the elder brother of Alexander Nevsky, Saint George (Feb. 4), in an old wooden chapel near the city of Gorodets. Later, the Gorodetsk Theodorov Monastery was built on this spot. Prince Yaroslav-Theodore became the Great Prince of Vladimir after his brother Saint George perished in battle with the Mongols at the Sita River. In the year 1239, he solemnly transferred the relics of his brother from Rostov to the Vladimir Dormition Cathedral. He gave the icon which he inherited from his brother to his own son, Saint Alexander Nevsky.


Yaroslav-Theodore is renowned in Russian history. He continued with the glorious traditions of his uncle Saint Andrew Bogoliubsky (July 4), and of his father Vsevolod III Big-Nest, and he was connected to almost all of the significant events in the history of Rus in the first half of the thirteenth century.

Russia was burned and torn apart by the Mongols in 1237-1238. He raised it up from the ashes, rebuilt and embellished the cities, the holy monasteries and the churches. He restored cities along the Volga devastated by the enemy: Kashin, Uglich, Yaroslavl’, Kostroma, Gorodets.

He founded he Church of Theodore Stratelates at Kostroma and the Theodorov Monastery near Gorodets in honor of his patron saint. For eight years he ruled as Great Prince, but he had to guide the land through a singularly difficult path, maintaining a military-political balance with the Golden Horde to the East, while mounting an active opposition to Catholic Europe in the West. His closest companion was his son, Saint Alexander Nevsky, who also continued his policies.

The wonderworking Theodore Icon of the Mother of God was constantly with Saint Alexander, and he prayed before it. After Saint Alexander Nevsky died on November 14, 1263 at the monastery founded by his father, the icon was taken by his younger brother Basil.

Basil Yaroslavich was the youngest (eighth) son of Yaroslav Vsevolodovich. In 1246 after the death of his father (Prince Yaroslav was poisoned in the capital city of Mongolia, Karakorum when he was only five years old) Basil became prince of the Kostroma appanage-holding, the least important of his father’s domains. In the year 1272, he became Great Prince of Vladimir.

His four years as Great Prince (1272-1276) were filled with fratricidal princely quarrels. For several years he waged war against Novgorod with an unruly nephew Demetrius. In becoming Great Prince, however, Basil did not journey to Vladimir, but remained under the protection of the wonderworking icon at Kostroma, regarding this place as safer in case of new outbreaks of strife.

He had occasion also to defend Rus against external enemies. In 1272, during a Tatar incursion, a Russian army came forth from Kostroma to engage them. Following the example of his grandfather, Saint Andrew Bogoliubsky (who took the wonderworking Vladimir Icon of the Mother of God with him on military campaigns), Prince Basil went into battle with the wonderworking Theodore Icon. A blinding light came forth from the holy image, and the Tatars dispersed and fled from the Russian land.


The Chronicles say that the Great Prince Basil had a special love for the Church and the clergy. After the martyric death of Bishop Metrophanes of Vladimir during the storming of Vladimir by Tatars on February 4, 1238, the Vladimir diocese had remained widowed for many years. This grieved Great Prince Basil. With his help, a large cathedral was constructed in Vladimir in 1274. This was apparently in connection with the consecration of Saint Serapion (July 12) as Bishop of Vladimir. He was an abbot from the Monastery of the Kiev Caves.

Metropolitan Cyril III (+ 1282) presided over a council of Russian hierarchs. This was the first council in the Russian Church since the time of the Mongol invasion. Many problems and disorders had arisen in Church life, but the Russian Church was just barely beginning to recover from the woe that had befallen it. One of its main tasks was to recover a Russian ecclesiastical literacy, and the restoration of the tradition of the ancient Russian “princely order.”

Without books the Church’s salvific activity would be almost impossible. Books were needed for church services, and for preaching, for the monastic cell rule, and for believers to read at home. Through the efforts of Metropolitan Cyril and the Russian bishops and monastic scholars, this important task was begun. The council approved new editions of essential books which formed the canonical basis of Orthodox church life.

In 1276, Prince Basil completed his life’s journey. Most of the important events in his life occurred with the blessing of the Theodore Icon of the Mother of God. He died at Kostroma, and there he also found his final resting place. Since that time, the holy icon has been in the Kostroma Cathedral of Saint Theodore Stratelates.

Renewed interest in the Theodore Icon of the Mother of God and the spread of its veneration throughout all Russia is connected with events of the beginning of the seventeenth century, and the end of the Time of Troubles. In the year 1613, the wonderworking Theodore Icon from the Kostroma Cathedral was used at the proclamation of Michael Romanov as the new Tsar. In memory of this historic event, March 14 was designated for the commemoration of the Theodore Icon of the Mother of God.

Numerous copies were made from the Kostroma Theodore Icon, and one of the first was commissioned and brought to Moscow by Tsar Michael’s mother, the nun Martha. From the second half of the seventeenth century, various copies of the Theodore Icon were enlarged with scenes depicting events from the history of the wonderworking icon.

In the year 1670 the hierodeacon Longinus from the Kostroma Hypatiev Monastery wrote the “Narrative Concerning the Manifestations and Miracles of the Theodore Icon of the Mother of God in Kostroma.” Not all the things contained in it agree with things previously stated.


Since the icon was overpainted several times during its history, by the time of the Russian Revolution of 1917, the image had almost disappeared from the icon. Art historians disagree about when and where the icon was created. Some propose an early 11th-century date; others date it as late as the turn of the 14th century. A clue to the icon's provenance may be supplied by the image on the reverse side of the Feodorovskaya. This image represents Saint Paraskeva, a saint whose veneration started in the Novgorod Republic at the turn of the 13th century.

Scholars believe that the image of Saint Paraskeva is contemporaneous with the image of the Theotokos on the other side. This dating seems to confirm the Novgorodian origin of the icon, as it was only in the 15th century that the veneration of Saint Paraskeva spread to other parts of the country. The saint's princely dress may indicate that the icon was intended as a wedding gift to a princess whose patron saint was Saint Paraskeva. Only one such princess is known in the Rurikid family: Vasily Tatishchev mentions that Saint Paraskeva was a patron saint of Alexandra of Polotsk, the only wife of Saint Alexander Nevsky of Novgorod.

Indeed, the feast day of Saint Alexandra coincides with that of Saint Paraskeva (20 March). In the Rurikid family, it was customary for a groom to present his bride an icon representing her patron saint. On these grounds, Byzantine expert Fyodor Uspensky concluded that the Feodorovskaya was presented by Alexander Nevsky to his wife on the occasion of their wedding in 1239.

If this theory is correct, the revered image of the Theotokos could have been commissioned by Alexander's father, Yaroslav II of Russia. His Christian name was Feodor (Феодор) and his patron saint was Theodore Stratelates. Herein may lie the explanation of the label traditionally applied to this image.


Up to the 17th century, the icon was little known outside Gorodets and Kostroma. Its fame spread all over Russia after 1613, when the adolescent Michael Romanov had been elected as the new Russian tsar. Romanov lived in Kostroma with his mother Ksenia, who had been forced to "take the veil" (join a convent and withdraw from public life) by the regent Boris Godunov. At first the nun advised her only son to stay in Kostroma and decline the offer of the Monomakh's Cap, or the position of tsar. She cited the ignominious end of three previous tsars, who had been either murdered or disgraced. At last Ksenia blessed her son by giving him a copy of the Feodorovskaya. She asked the icon to protect Mikhail and his royal descendants. The young tsar took a copy of the icon with him to Moscow, where it came to be regarded as the holy protectress of the Romanov dynasty.

In 1681, the icon appeared in a dream to Ivan Pleshkov, who had been paralysed for 12 years. He was commanded to go to Kostroma, procure a copy of the icon, bring it back to Yaroslavl and to build a church for its veneration. As soon as he was cured of palsy, Pleshkov commissioned Gury Nikitin, the most famous wall-painter of 17th century Russia, who hailed from Kostroma, to paint a copy of the miraculous icon. The Fyodorovskaya Church was built to house the icon, with funds provided by ordinary people. A treatise details its construction and the miracles attributed to the icon in Yaroslavl. The church was consecrated on 24 July 1687. As the Communists destroyed the Assumption Cathedral of Yaroslavl during the Russian Revolution, the Fyodorovskaya Church has served as the cathedral for the city and the archdiocese of Rostov, the oldest in Russia.

Another copy of the icon has been venerated in Gorodets, especially after the Feodorovsky Monastery was re-established in the early 18th century. A new copy of the icon was brought to it from Kostroma. This image was fitted into a golden riza inlaid with precious stones, so as to rival the original by its sumptuous decoration. During the annual Makariev Fair, the icon was brought for veneration to Nizhny Novgorod.

When the tercentenary of the Romanov dynasty was celebrated in 1913, Nicholas II of Russia commissioned a copy of the Gorodets icon, which he placed at the Royal Cathedral of Our Lady Saint Theodore, constructed to a design by Vladimir Pokrovsky in the town of Tsarskoye Selo. It is said that Nicholas II could not have had a copy from the original image because the icon in Kostroma had blackened so badly that the image was hardly visible.[citation needed] This was interpreted as a bad sign for the Romanov dynasty. Indeed, the Romanovs were dethroned four years later during the Russian Revolution. The Assumption Cathedral in Kostroma was blown up by the Bolsheviks, but rebuilt in 2005.

Unlike the other great icons of Russia, the Feodorovskaya was not transferred to a museum, because the image was impossible to discern. The Black Virgin was given to the sect of obnovlentsy, which had it restored in Moscow in 1928. After the sect was dissolved in 1944, the icon reverted to the Russian Orthodox Church. It deposited the icon in the famous Resurrection Church on the Lowlands in Kostroma. In 1991 the icon was moved from there to the revived Epiphany Cathedral in the same city. Recently encased in a new chasuble, the icon is still venerated at the convent associated with the cathedral.

The Icon of the Most Holy Theotokos of Saint Theodore is commemorated on March 14 and August 16.


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